Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review

Jump Into The Drug Wars
by Matt Bertz on Oct 21, 2009 at 05:52 AM
Reviewed on PSP
Also on DS
Publisher Rockstar Games
Developer Rockstar Leeds
Rating Mature

Chinatown Wars is one of the highest rated DS games of all time, yet for some reason the Nintendo crowd kept its distance. Recognizing the game deserves a better fate, Rockstar promptly ported its handheld gem in hopes of finding a more appreciative audience with the game-starved PSP owners.

The PSP version is a pound-for-pound port featuring the same retro top-down GTA action of its DS cousin. Players dive into the Liberty City underground as Huang Lee, the son of a deceased Triad boss who gets involved in the power struggle to take over leadership in his wake. Huang Lee’s over-the-top sarcasm and the generally unlikable cast do the story no favors, but you’ll likely be too immersed in the drug trade to take notice.

In traditional GTA fashion, much of your time is spent blowing up buildings, killing troublemakers, fetching important items for your higher ups, and running from the cops. For the PSP version, Rockstar also added another set of missions revolving around an independent reporter who is as crazy as the criminals on whom she’s reporting. While this mission-based formula still yields a lot of fun, I found myself frequently shunning the narrative in favor of pursuing the almighty unlaundered dollar in the drug trade.

Liberty City’s black market drug trading is nuanced, with different gang factions controlling the distribution of certain drugs. The smart dealer can make a killing buying low from one group and selling high to the deviants just dying for a fix. The danger is in acquiring and transporting large amounts of cocaine and heroin across the city – some deals are busted by sting operations, and if you don’t want to lose the large sums of cash you invested in the illegal substances you need to avoid arrest at all costs. Making money in the drug trade becomes all the more important considering most missions pay you less than welfare. Kill a rival? Here’s $50 – don’t spend it all in one place. To keep Lee flush with ammo and bulletproof vests, you have to get your nose dirty.

The PSP’s widescreen display is an asset during police chases, as the broader view makes it easier to see which direction the heat is coming from. The minigames for hotwiring cars, disarming bombs, and making Molotov cocktails also benefit from the transition to Sony’s handheld – you no longer have to hold the stylus awkwardly in your hand as you wait to employ it at a moment’s notice. If you get in a gunfight, however, there is no quick fix for the sketchy targeting that maims both versions of this game. You can still waste most of your enemies in a timely fashion; just don’t expect to feel empowered by jamming on a button to shoot.

Regardless of the game’s mechanical simplicity, Rockstar has created an addictive, bite-sized serving of its patented “breaking the law” gameplay. Chinatown Wars jams an entire metropolis in your handheld that’s just begging to be exploited.

Port the critically acclaimed, underselling DS title to PSP
The improved graphics and lighting breathe new life into Liberty City
Like the DS version, the 8-bit style soundtrack is fantastic
The gunplay once again fails to impress, but ditching the DS stylus controls helps the minigames flow much better with the rest of the game
GTA fans will enjoy this mobile dose of action, but Huang Lee’s story doesn’t hold up to those of Niko Bellic, Tommy Vercetti, or Carl Johnson

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